PM says UK has not 'blocked the export of a single Covid vaccine' in row with EU

10 March 2021, 14:16

Boris Johnson sought to correct the suggestion by Charles Michel
Boris Johnson sought to correct the suggestion by Charles Michel. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Boris Johnson has hit back at Brussels over a claim by the European Council president that the UK imposed an "outright ban" on coronavirus vaccine exports.

The Prime Minister told MPs that the UK has not "blocked the export of a single Covid-19 vaccine" as he sought to correct the suggestion by Charles Michel.

A senior EU diplomat was summoned to the Foreign Office earlier on Wednesday over the row, and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has written to Mr Michel seeking to correct the record.

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At Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Johnson said: "The whole House can be proud of the UK's vaccination programme, with over 22.5 million people now having received their first dose across the UK.

"We can also be proud of the support the UK has given to the international Covid response, including the £548 million we have donated to Covax.

"I therefore wish to correct the suggestion from the European Council president that the UK has blocked vaccine exports.

"Let me be clear: we have not blocked the export of a single Covid-19 vaccine or vaccine components.

"This pandemic has put us all on the same side in the battle for global health; we oppose vaccine nationalism in all its forms."

Mr Michel accused Britain and the US of imposing bans on the movement of jabs in a newsletter on Tuesday.

He said he was "shocked" when he heard allegations of vaccine nationalism levelled at the EU, saying: "The facts do not lie."

"The United Kingdom and the United States have imposed an outright ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components produced on their territory," he said.

"But the European Union, the region with the largest vaccine production capacity in the world, has simply put in place a system for controlling the export of doses produced in the EU."

Mr Raab wrote to Mr Michel on Tuesday evening, seeking to "set the record straight", and saying that "any references to a UK export ban or any restrictions on vaccines are completely false".

Nicole Mannion, deputy EU ambassador to the UK, was summoned to the Foreign Office on Wednesday morning amid anger over the claim being repeated within the EU and the Commission, despite the UK correcting the record on each occasion.

A spokesman for the EU delegation said: "This morning, Nicole Mannion, deputy ambassador of the EU to the UK and charge d'affaires at the EU delegation to the UK attended a meeting at the request of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office."

The European Commission said on Wednesday that Mr Johnson had previously assured president Ursula von der Leyen that the UK did not have a ban on vaccine exports but would not be drawn on Mr Michel's criticism.

Asked whether the Commission supported Mr Michel's comments, spokesman Eric Mamer said: "We have a policy of not commenting on other people's comments.

"Clearly the situation, when it comes to the export of vaccines, depends very much on the countries concerned.

"As far as the European Union is concerned, you know what our policy is and we will limit ourselves to that."

Mr Mamer said that "different countries have got different measures in place" as part of the fight against coronavirus.

He added: "This does not concern vaccines, as far as we understand, coming from the UK... But we know as well that we, the European Union, are a very, very active exporter of vaccines, and that is not necessarily the case of all our partners."

In January, the EU briefly attempted to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to impose controls on vaccines.

But it swiftly backtracked after coming in for widespread criticism over the move, which came as it faced significant pressure over delays to the rollout of its vaccination programme.